Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Brooks on Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell (author of "The Tipping Point" and "Blink") has a new book out called "Outliers", and I recommend it to you. Gladwell is a brilliant interpreter of human behavior and a very readable author. But I think he sometimes is guilty of being logical and clear-thinking all the way from A to Y....then losing it on the next step. David Brooks calls him on it in this piece.

Essentially, Gladwell pokes holes in the "great man" theory, reducing individual success to a series of propitious circumstances and repetition (his "10,000 hours" to mastery theory). Bill Gates got to be where he is because he was a child of privilege, studying at a private school with the means to buy a computer at the dawn of the computer age--and then he got thousands of hours of free mainframe time at local college computers while his friends were doing things "normal" teenagers do. Reading Gladwell's book, I was comforted by the fact that his examples of greatness didn't just effortlessly glide into the role. They worked hard. They had supportive parents. Yes, they had circumstances on their sides in may cases. But this does not mean that any other schlub in the same circumstances would have achieved the same outcomes. The thing about truly great human beings is that they are TRULY GREAT; there is something elementally different about Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet, or Tiger Woods that caused the happy intersection of means and ability to create a singular individual.

Brooks does a nice job in poking a hole in the egalitarianism of Gladwell's argument.

UPDATE 12/17: I see in the Corner where Jonah Goldberg did an entry on this same subject. Please be assured that I did not see his before I wrote mine.

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